Friday, October 30, 2015

In Vermont, November Comes In October

The joy of October is over, and dark November
looms over Vermont. Here are some leaves from
newly barren trees in Burlington, Vermont. 
November arrived here in Vermont over the past couple of days.

I know, I know, it's October 30. But what I'm talking about is the mood of the month, which doesn't line up with the calendar. I think that's true of almost any time of year.

October is bright and beautiful. November is funereal.

Autumn - the part involving brilliant foliage, bright sunshine and hordes of tourists, this year lasted longer than it usually does up here. All thanks to a record warm September and bursts of mild weather earlier this month.

On Sunday, October 25, I took a drive from my home in St. Albans, in the northwestern corner of the state down to West Rutland, in the southwest to visit family.

I stuck pretty much to the "tropical" Champlain Valley, or at least tropical compared to the rest of the state. The foliage usually hangs on longer here than in the more mountainous parts of Vermont.

Still, I was stunned by how pretty the landscape still was. Usually by October 25, the foliage is gone except for some leftover pockets of brilliant birch or larch or maybe part of one or two particularly vigorous sugar maples.

But on Sunday, the foliage was still gorgeous, especially along reliable scenic Route 30 through rural Cornwall, Sudbury and Whiting.

Of course this state of affairs couldn't last forever. On Wednesday, a gusty rainstorm - fueled in part by Hurricane Patricia, arrived to darken the sky to deep gray November hue and start stripping the remaining leaves from the trees.

If I had to pick an exact moment November arrived for me here in Vermont, it was at 12:58 p.m. yesterday.

I was working for a client, cleaning up their garden. It had been quite a mild morning ahead of a cold front, with intervals of sun interspersing with fitful bursts of rain.

At 12:58, that cold front arrived with a volatile sky, another burst of rain, and a strong westerly gust of wind that set off a blizzard of leaves from the trees that still had foliage. The temperature plunged. I was sweating in my t-shirt a few minutes earlier. Now I was shivering.

There's probably no two months in Vermont with such opposing personalities as October and November.

October is a wild celebration of color and lingering warmth. November is somber and gray and quiet and dead as we button down for our traditional long, cold winter.

Of course, it's not like November is all doom and gloom. You can still  get some sort of decent days. In fact, there are signs an Indian Summer might sneak into Vermont next week.

Yesterday, I gave up at the client's house amid the rain and wind and chill.

I went home to St. Albans. The showers stopped. As strong west winds peeled the dead leaves from the poplar trees, I rushed to plant daffodil, hyacinth and crocus bulbs in my yard. You want to prepare for the joy of spring, because you know it will be a long, cold winter.  You want to spend the winter anticipating the joyful return to color and life.

Night fell. Now that the leaves are largely down, the view of northern New York State from my hillside property opened up, no longer blocked by foliage.

To the southwest, I could see the Lights of Dannamora in the distance, set against the Adirondack foothills, which all sounds so romantic. But Dannamora is a prison, and what we see is the big patch of lights that helps guards keep watch on the inmates.

After the freedom and joy of summer and autumn, we Vermonters - like me - are preparing for a sort of prison, too.

Our prison isn't necessarily grim, like Dannamora.  But the upcoming winter is a restrictive prison of wearing heavy coats, gingerly driving and walking on ice, and fretting about how we're going to pay the heating bill.

This jail sentence will last until April, when some of those crocuses and daffodils I planted as November loomed come back, to return color to our Vermont world.

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